Monday, September 27, 2010

Fact or Fiction?

“Write the truth for a minute, then make the rest up.”

In truth, those aren’t my words. Heard them on the car radio the other day, half-listening to an NPR interview with an author whose name I didn't catch. The truth for a minute is this: I wouldn’t be scribbling these words or any others in a blog of my own, if it weren’t for Ann.

(Ann? No, she’s not in the picture on the left, but I like the conversation going on in the photo, don’t you? Look, what’s playing in your mind right now is a dance between the words - and pictures- on this screen - and your remarkable ability to synthesize them, to imagine something you can't see or hear, something so real it feels true to you. And that, my dear reader, is the very basis of writing. Be it fact or fiction, writing depends as much on the reader's imagination as the author's. )

The real Ann is a good friend of mine, and a former colleague - an ad writer who left the agency business a few years ago. Ann is now a self-employed, full-time writer, as she would say, “boss of her own words.” Ann makes up the truth as she sees it, writing fiction and a blog of her own. Her writing is courageous and exuberant, and often hilarious. Her grace and humor seem effortless, but I know she works at her craft with a passion that’s hard-won and sure.

I tell Ann that she’s the only real writer I know. And that’s the truth. Ann has written two novels. (If I had a novel rattling around in my head or a half-finished manuscript stashed in a drawer, I might be jealous of Ann’s contemplative writer’s life, living quietly on the edge as she does, just a sentence away from great adventures in a parallel universe, plotting a coming-of-age story or a murder mystery. I know full well that the writing life is a personal choice, and often a lonely one. I have not chosen that path. Not yet.

Back in January, perhaps as a New Year’s resolution, Ann invited about a dozen of us - all friends of hers from various creative pursuits - to follow her into the pages of a blog she called Artists Wayfarers. The site was an experiment. To see how far we could take our resolve to keep up the habits prescribed in The Artist’s Way- a guide to “higher creativity” by Julia Cameron. We were to write every day in the form of three handwritten “Morning Pages,” kept in a journal. The rest of it was essentially a 12-Step Variation on the themes of reclaiming and celebrating our creativity. And so I began to keep a notebook, scribbling and rambling to myself. And I started blogging - on and on - in an earnest, if not an honest, attempt to force my hand and my brain into the game -- to be “boss of my own words.”

Blogging. My husband calls this form of writing my recreation. Recreational? Writing!? Like using drugs for “recreation”. . . there’s no such thing. Seriously. Writing seems to me like a form of madness, a chronic state of checking your words, fitting pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle, making things up in search of your own true voice. It takes patience and a mental stamina like no other “recreation” I know. Shh-it, the stuff is all in your head. And to add insult to injury, there’s your self-appointed “Inner-Editor,” always calling, checking in to say hello, blockading your every passage, and stamping out your fires like Smokey the Bear. Whew! Like heavy exercise, writing to me feels best when I’ve found a satisfying place to stop every day and say, yes, that’s enough for now, it is what it is, I’ve done what I can, and if it’s underdone or overcooked or just plain nonsense, I can always revise it. Tomorrow.

While it’s true that I write “for a living,” the truth is that I don’t live to write. And there’s all the difference between Ann and me.

Ann has discovered the alchemy -- the magic of writing, the place on the page where the writer submits and the writing takes over. I’ve heard other writers describe it. It’s an itch they have to scratch. A master they must answer. Writing is like breathing, an unequivocal necessity. The true writers among us don’t stop until they’ve finished what the have to say.

Last January, Ann and I imagined a flourishing blogsite, blossoming before our eyes, with an energetic exchange of posts between a dozen writers and artists. Truth: we petered out, as all good things come to an end. The site became a posting ping pong game with a few onlookers occasionally adding their comments, until we all realized we could just as easily exchange email.

And so Ann moved on, gently encouraging us all to do the same. Ann is now the Writer on the Lake at Her humor and encouragement shine through the pages of this blogsite, as well. Ann is my one steadfast reader, and a blessing at that. A word from her is enough for me to stay the course. To keep blogging. A wild turtle. Crossing.

Having the last word, in a recent post, Ann writes...

Writing to please yourself is an amazing, good time. When it's going well, it's a blast. And when it's going rotten, it's still absolutely in the loving arms of you and your personal, magical Muse. When I'm not all cranky about the rigors of agent hunting, I know this in my soul.

You can know it, too. Look. If you don't want to write, don't. But if you've always thought you could, or if you already did and want to do more but you're having doubts or writerly angst, don't let anybody stop you.

Writing is a joyride. And we Authors get to drive the bus.

Go, Ann, go.

For more:

Lake E

Artist Wayfarers

Photo credit: M. Henoch

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I ♥ My Droid

Beyond a smart phone, this thing is kick-ass genius. DROID. I love its good looks, its size and design. DROID. I love how it wakes up, with a shudder in your hand, opening its red-eye to the world -- so weird, and yet so charming as it flashes and blinks in its Space Odyssey HAL-like mode (I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.) DROID. I love its creepy little ringtone.

There were phones and apps all around, but I never heard them calling. ‘Til there was DROID. And now, I can barely keep my hands off the dang thing.

DROID. I love that it’s a phone I don’t have to dial. Just talk to it and it makes my call. I love that it’s Google at my fingertips, wireless and free. . . the internet at my command.

DROID. I love that it’s street smart and savvy, too, a GPS with directions I can actually follow, without programming or fumbling at a keyboard. DROID knows where I am and where I’m going at all times, and how to get me from point A to B - even when I take stupid detours. (Big Brother be damned, DROID is my little R2-D2, ever so helpful and cheerful ) DROID is clever, too, can tell you the nearest Starbucks and pizza and Chinese take-out on any route.

DROID. I love that it understands me: knows my voice and touch. With a keyboard program called SWIPE , my DROID forgives the worst possible spelling and scribbling, and catches the meaning of even my most feeble attempts at communication.

DROID. I love that it can tell time, keep my calendar, check email, play music and movies. I love that I can use it as a camera, a Kindle reader, a personal photo gallery, a daily gateway to this very blog (which I admit I check obsessively, and thank you for reading)

DROID. I love that it does things I don’t need. Like Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Anywhere Abs, and Pocket Fitness Coach. So what’s wrong with this perfectly marvelous, excessively personal electronic device? Just that. It’s so aptly suited to being a constant companion, a relentless source of amusement and distraction, I actually believe it to be habit forming, recharging my brain, changing my life, one time killer app at a time.

DROID. Love it. Leave it. (Give it a rest, and kill the apps.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blog Rules

I wake up in a flash not yet aware that there’s a storm rolling in. I check the time: not yet four in the morning. I fumble for reading glasses on the nightstand. In the dark, with eyes still closed behind lenses, I start. To blog.

Out of wreckless slumber, with an affirmative crack of thunder, words start flowing, leaking onto the pillow, arcing in fully formed, yet unintelligible sentences. Rain slams against the window. Damn, has it come to this? Beyond reason, beyond obsession, it occurs to me, as in a dream (or more accurately, as in a novel I’ve read) this thrashing of inspiration on a dark, stormy morning is derivative.

And so with apologies to Chuck Palahniuk, a writer I admire, I offer you my brain-fevered and sweat-logged post for the day:

The Rules of Blog Club

The first rule of Blog Club is: you do not talk about Blog Club.

The second rule of Blog Club is: you DO NOT blog about Blog Club.

Third rule: If someone yells stop, or taps out of comments, STOP. The post is over.

Fourth rule: one blogger to a post.

Fifth rule: one post at a time

Sixth rule: posts are bare knuckle to keyboard. No caffeine. No alcohol. No sharp objects.

Seventh rule: Blogs will go on as long as they have to.

Eighth and final rule: if this is your first time at Blog Club, you have to post.

To further bastardize the words of C.P. “Let’s say never be complete, let’s say stop being perfect, let’s say let... let’s evolve, let the posts fall where they may.”

And to that I say, Hit Post.”

Disclaimer: If you find offensive any of the words or typos above, you have been warned, graphics are jpeg files, where objects in orbit on the internet are stolen from links that can not be easily broken.

Photo sources: joeadonis on deviantART

brad‑pitt‑fight‑club‑photograph‑c.jpgRead All About It! » 2009 » May

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More Michigan. For Real.

Home is a state of mind. We all know that. Home is what we grow up with. Or leave in order to set out on our own. Home is memory, the stories and myths we share. Home is an easy chair, comfort food, a place at the table, (pass the turkey, please.)

The notion of home as a comfort zone all depends, of course, on our means: to meet the rent, pay the mortgage, fix the roof, buy groceries, make plans, raise a family, to grow, to dream, to change, to adapt, to pull up stakes when we desire, and move forward when we so choose.

Our state of flux

Not to dwell on the negative, but we live in a state of disrepair. So many things here in Michigan need fixing. Yes, there are signs that the Big Three have started the process: downsizing for dear life and getting back on the road. Even still, economic recovery will be a long time in coming for the workforce in Michigan.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan leads the nation in unemployment, at a statewide rate of 13.1% Count the underemployed, and those who have dropped out of the job market altogether, our numbers skyrocket to 20.9% statewide. Officially the jobless rate in Detroit is just under 30%. But using the broadest definition of unemployment, the number of city residents out of work is closer to one in every two. Numbing numbers. And not surprising: homelessness, especially among those becoming homeless for the first time is expected to jump at least 10% this year. Source: Detroit's Unemployment Rate Is Nearly 50%, According to the Detroit News

Katrina. Without the water.

Detroit, once the epicenter of the nation’s industrial wealth is a city deserted, with more abandoned property than any American city except post-Katrina New Orleans. The good news is we’re open to opportunity. Wide open.

And like New Orleans, there’s an indomitable creative spirit here in Michigan. We’re builders. Inventors. Dreamers. Do-ers. We’re optimists. Even under water. I see it every day working in the Exhibit Design Shop of the Detroit Science Center. Times are tough. Funding is hard to secure. Yet in the last two years, we’ve added a middle school, reopened and revitalized the Detroit Children’s Museum, added a theater, completed a Kidstown and a Space Gallery, and launched two national traveling exhibits. In the cue, we have a dozen projects, including multi-million dollar contracts to build exhibits in partnership with Marathon Oil and MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation. By one miracle or another, we’ll get these projects done.

Just out of curiosity the other day, I took an informal survey at the shop and asked a few colleagues - graphic designers, electromechanical engineers and fabricators--

“What makes Michigan work?”

Beyond the tourism hype,” I ask, “what does pure Michigan mean to you?"

“The Lakes,” pipes up the youngest of the group. There’s no place in the world that has the Great Lakes as we do. Think about it. Michigan, Superior and Erie. Each one has a different kind of shoreline. Rocky, sand dunes, all different.

“And freighters on the lake, I love to watch the ships go by.”

The office comes alive with our chatter.

“How ‘bout our shipwrecks? Did you know Lake Superior has claimed more than 350 ships?”

“Don’t forget the lighthouses.”

“And the white-sand beaches... and Sleeping Bear Dunes.”

“We have seasons. I love that we have four seasons.”

“And the color-changes.”

“And apple picking.”

“And the Peach Festival in Romeo.”

Suddenly, Michigan is sounding like an entirely different state than the one I know. And it is. The Upper Peninsula is still wild. Serene. Beautiful. Never been there, never done that.

"So what about Detroit?," I ask.

The room breaks out in a litany of Detroit claims to fame. . .

“Sports! We have four professional sports teams, not many cities can say that.”

“And our cultural center, our museums.”

The Henry Ford -- and Greenfield Village... we have history here”

"Ford Country."

Vernors, the oldest surviving gingerale in the U.S, a Detroit original.”

“And don’t forget our music. Motown is still a great town for musicians.”

“And artists.”

“And Buddy’s Pizza, another Detroit specialty.”

“How ‘bout our ethnic food?”

“And our diversity. Our neighborhoods, Mexican Town. Greek Town. Cork Town. Hamtramick.”

Detroit is a concept, ventures one of the designers - a young woman in her 30‘s.,

Now the flow of conversation gets serious. “How do you mean, a concept?” I ask.

"I love the architecture, the grandeur and the history, and in it I see a city that is still striving in its heart for a life.

I see great and terrible contrasts between the past and the present, and I envision both these things coming forth to create something new.

But we need to be patient.

We need to keep up the good fight... to believe in ourselves.

We need to know when to close the doors and when to be open to change. We need to be willing to renew, retool, and reinvent ourselves.”

"We are stardust, we are golden."

Living in a state of flux is not new to Michiganers. Since the turn of the century -- that is the 20th century -- Michigan has had its ups and downturns. I no longer have a first-hand family narrative to check the facts on this, but I’ve been told that my grandparents once owned a laundry on Jefferson Avenue in Detroit -- back in the early 20’s. My mother had recollections of Belle Isle Park where her father learned to drive the family car. And when the laundry business dried up, my grandparents packed it in, left the state, moved their young family to Ohio, determined never again to own a business that would “live and die” by the shifting fortunes of the auto industry.

That’s my brief family history in Detroit. Until now. It’s just the two of us here, my husband and I. Our sons are one state over in both directions east and west: in Cleveland and Chicago. Our extended family is spread from coast to coast, from Florida to Seattle. We have no plans to leave the area any time soon. Our home is here, and so is our work

So strange how you get attached to a place. I work in an industrial park off of 8 Mile, a formidable and colorful strip of road, blighted by abandoned buildings, empty car lots, convenience stores and “gentlemen’s clubs. Just around the block from the shop, there stood a fabulous wreck of a place -- which I assumed to be a burnt-out theater. Until I stopped to actually take a closer look at the marquee. The Starlight Lanes, missing its “L.” What a glorious bowling alley it must have been back in the day. I took a spin around the building on a lunch hour a couple of months ago, to snap a few pictures, figuring to capture a final image before it disappeared forever from view. And sure enough, my instincts were correct. Two weeks ago, the Starlight turned to stardust. Torn down. At last, making way for someplace new.

Things change. Some for the better. Even here in Detroit, of all places.

Photo Sources: vhenoch and (All who wander are not lost)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Posting Toasties

On Yom Kippur we reflect: what is a fast day? Really. All our days seem fast. We hunger for time out. Time off. And what do we do with our precious time . . . off? Well, here you are, online, with my thanks for being here.

And so with virtual raised glass in hand, I propose a post, a “Post Toasty,” so to speak, to cheer you on this Monday morning, to say L’Chaim - to Life! And to our counterlife, weird and wired as it is: online.

Here’s to you --- and to the vitality of the Great and Everlasting Internet, the new Word on the Street as we know it, and to those whom we’d sorely miss if ever they were cut from our daily dosage of incoming media. Is it an addiction? Perhaps. But drink up.

Cheers to the bloggers, the writers, the journalists, the humorists. To the savvy web-sters, the code-writing “standardistas,” the designers and creators of infinitely variant domains. Here’s to the RSS feeders, the syndicators, the opinionators, the taste mongers. To the curious, the readers, the scanners, the browsers, the seekers, and the Googlers. Here’s to the inventors, the followers, the critics, the babblers, the Twitter-tweeters, the thumb twiddlers, the thumb drivers, the computer jocks, the Go Daddies, the Amazonians, the buyers, the Ebayers, the sellers, the Flickrs, the flockers, the foodies, the samplers, the gamers, the gardeners, the YouTubists, the artists, the explorers of brave new words. Here’s to the pilgrims, the wayfarers . . . all out there. You know who you are.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pure Michigandering

With the following disclaimers: that I am an Ohioan by origin, that I’ve never attended a camp or college in Michigan, that I don’t own a cottage or condo ‘up North,’that I’ve crossed the Mackinac Bridge only once, that I still have to check how to spell Mackinac vs. Mackinaw, that I’ve never been trout fishing in the U.P, and that it’s taken me a decade to adopt Michigan as my present state and Detroit as. . . well, sorta my kinda town...I submit to you that I’ve come to understand what Michiganians -- or Michiganders (?) and even some Yoopers out there are talking about when they tell you what makes Michigan so peculiarly Michigan.

Off the top of my head, (and with no particular order in mind) here’s my short list:

Cherries. Sweet,tart, dark,light, cherries are Michigan’s signature crop and ubiquitous fruit. Come to Michigan for cherries in salads, cherries in salsa, cherries in bread, cherry lemonade, cherry wine, cherry picking everywhere you can possibly get ‘em. World’s largest cherry pie pan, with a 17,420-pound capacity is on display in Traverse City, home of the National Cherry Festival.

» Michigan Cherries » Absolute Michigan

Fast Drivers own the road in Michigan. Watch for them. They know where they’re going, and they use colorful hand signals when vexed. Best to stay out of their way.

Michigan Turns. Where else but Michigan do you turn right to make a U-turn to go left? Drives my GPS crazy.

Coney Islands, the chili-dogs. What I would give right now for a coney smothered in raw onions -- not much. Coney Islands (known in New York as Michigan-style hot dogs) are legendary in Detroit. Coney Island restaurants, found in abundance, serve cheap and plentiful greasy-spoon diner food, Mediterranean-style, and according to Chowhound, are predominantly owned and operated by Albanians - and Chaldeans. (If you must go, order the Greek salad. It's still a pretty good deal.) Fancy Mag

Hitsville, U.S.A. Home of Motown Records and the world-famous Studio A, still stands on West Grand Boulevard, like oooo baby, baby, sunshine on a cloudy day. Motown Historical Museum - Detroit

The Ruins of Detroit Athens has the Acropolis; Detroit has the Michigan Central Station. There are the dreamers among us, who still believe that the city can rise out of its monumental urban decay, like the Phoenix out of the ashes. In its depth, Detroit may be just the place to show us the way for all cities to renew and survive.

The Mitten. A map of Michigan for dummies. Only in Michigan can you describe your location by pointing to spots on the palm of your left hand, uh, or is it the back of your right hand? Cartophilia: Maps and Map Memorabilia: Michigan Mittens

The Big House. The biggest, baddest, loudest stadium in the Big Ten, third largest stadium in the world. To be seated in the House for a U of M game is an out-of-body experience. Go Blue.

Zingermans Way beyond a heavenly deli, a mecca for foodies, listed among the Top Ten Food Markets in the World by Food and Wine Magazine. Artisan breads and cheeses, chocolates and munchies, kugels and killer brownies, holiday fare, name it and you can taste it there. You must go! On Kingsley Street, downtown Ann Arbor. Zingerman's Deli

Rivera Court The heart, the soul, and very center of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Diego Rivera’s fresco masterpiece stands today, just as it did when it was unveiled in 1933 -- an iconic and haunting tribute to the industry and technology and workforce that built the city. For a panoramic view of the work, see DIA - Rivera Court

Detroit Eastern Market. One of the largest, one of the oldest, and one of the most entertaining places to be in the city as you shop for produce. On a busy summer Saturday, more than 40,000 people flow through the market sheds, and surrounding eateries, specialty food shops and retail boutiques, covering over 40 acres of prime real estate in midtown.

Note: for best BBQ and live jazz, take a seat on the street at Bert’s Market Place on Russell. Smokin' hot.

The Dream Cruise -- there are auto people, and there are auto people who own garages larger than their houses. For these people, there’s the Cruise -- a once a year rite of passage whereby their classic vehicles come off their blocks, to be driven with security escorts and displayed in guarded lots charging $200 a spot. For the rest of us, the Dream Cruise is one big tailgate party -- drivin’ and gawkin’ around Woodward Ave.

... to be continued from time to time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Last Gulp

They say it will be an early winter. But here and now, in the morning sun, the wind is warm, and the coast is clear for one last swig of summer.

Quick. Take out the Canon for one more shot at the beach. Snap. One more gaze out into the bay. Snap and catch a gull in one last flight along that wave, before snap and it’s gone. Just like that. Last chance to get sand in your shoes before the season’s end. Up North, as we say, in pure Michigan our summer is glorious. All too brief.

September 9-12, last days of summer, going fast: Spent a long weekend on a "business holiday" at the annual retreat of the Oakwood Healthcare System. Stayed in Bay Harbor, a resort development in the line of coastal towns along Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay, a stone’s throw from Petoskey and scenic Charlevoix. On the Michigan “mitten” map, the location would be the tip of the ring finger (or thereabouts).

Friday: an autumn chill in the air, good for biking. 5 hours in the saddle, riding out under grey leaden skies to bright blue. Took a 40 mile bike hike on park paths and country roads from Petosky to Harbor Springs and beyond. There was M, all decked out on his own Trek Madone, and there was me (more grammatically correct, there I was) - on a rental with a cranky gear, rockin’ and rolling ‘til the rolling hills got the better of me. Stopped at a Farmer’s Market Cafe, an idyllic spot for lunch, best meal of the weekend.

Saturday afternoon golf in the rain (as Michigan golfers are prone to do, ‘cuz we’re tough) until the greens flooded and our hands went numb (not a bad round considering).

Saturday night costume party, a time-honored tradition of the board: to come as you really are or as your alter-ego might suggest. Over the years at this affair, M and I have been odd couples: Mario Brothers, Blues Brothers, Annie Hall and Woody Allen, a Para Docs (bad pun, easy costume). This year we opted for our true selves- Rocky and Bullwinkle. Pure Michigan... silliness.

Sunday after-brunch, a last minute walk along the beach. Last-minute stop to shop for Petosky stones -- little polished pieces of petrified coral found in abundance along the Michigan shores. More pure Michigan. (To be continued with tomorrow's post.)